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How to “Rescue” Radio


How to “rescue” radio? Doc Searls has some ideas, and Doc’s a very smart man. He is, among other things, the co-author of the classic The Cluetrain Manifesto that anticipated social media and the power of the social consumer by a decade.

I don’t agree with all of his points, but I’ll share a few of the most interesting here.

First, he redefines radio as “streamed audio,” unbound from “transmitter mentality.” This is a familiar conversation in radio circles, of course – and one that keeps bumping up against business model realities that are realities only for those who are beholden to traditional business models. My conception of “radio” is much broader and relates more to branded entertainment and information content across platforms (think Marvel or Disney or ESPN or NPR), but Doc and I agree that the content side is hugely important. In the final analysis, you can only go across platforms when you have the quality unique and compelling content to do it. Indeed, that should be our goal.

Here’s some of his advice:

Normalize to the Net. That doesn’t mean just “digital first.” It means recognizing that the Internet is your coverage area, and the new native land for all forms of radio, including Satellite.

Yes. And that means you must be worth consuming for listeners whose choices are not limited by geography. Being “local” therefore isn’t as important in this context as being “relevant.” Being unique and compelling with – as Seth Godin calls it – “best in the world” content becomes the only way to thrive.

Transmit over the air in HD. Yes, HD has problems, and the adoption rate is still low. But it’s an all-digital bridge between net-casting and over-the-air.

My opinions on this matter are well known since I predicted the cold shoulder the consumers are giving HD almost 9 years ago. Consumers are speaking with their ears and their devices, and they are moving from analog to digital without using any “bridge.” Besides, too many broadcasters who have HD see it as a way to flood their markets with me-too ratings spoilers rather than add true value to the listener or client experience.

Have truly unique programming. If you’re running what dozens or hundreds of other stations are running, you’re just a relay.

Don’t take it from me, take it from Doc. Don’t be “just a relay.” Relays are commodities and commodities will never thrive in a world with choices and without boundaries.

Look toward making more money from subscriptions and voluntary donations than from advertising.

I absolutely agree. Part of our business model paralysis is that we steadfastly refuse to do what non-commercial stations do every day: Look to our fans for our support. When you worship your fans rather than your ratings you very often end up with more fans and higher ratings. Since listeners will pay for value, not just “radio,” that’s where the emphasis should be. More on that in another post one of these days.

Lobby to get rid of the completely aversive royalty system for webcasting, and its inequities with over-the-air broadcasting. Replace it with something sane and respectful of the all-digital world in which we now live.

Yes, yes, and yes.

Thanks for focusing on radio, Doc. The industry needs more attention from thoughtful outsiders. Indeed, that’s why I launched hivio. Wanna come?

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